In 2022, Bissell Centre took a long hard look at itself and asked what can be a scary question – what are our 2SLGBTQIA+ team and community members experiencing here? What does Pride at Bissell look like? Are these folks being embraced and celebrated? Are they comfortable being their truest selves here?
41 team members participated in a survey focused on 2SLGBTQIA+ issues – 12 from 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. The results of the survey were promising, and a lot of organizations would take that as a sweeping success and end their efforts there. Instead, we wondered how best to push our organization even further.
Through the results of this survey, summer intern J. Heber looked at the qualitative stats, thought about how they represented the diverse 2SLGBTQIA+ presence at Bissell Centre, and created a fibre art piece to represent that diversity across the organizations.
It is an expression of all the different flags and colours that express the different gender identities and sexual orientations that makeup Pride. Today, it proudly hangs in our Community Space. It stands as a reminder to folks that our diversity is our strength, and inclusion is essential. It also features seeds and the words, “Let’s Grow Together,” demonstrating the seeds of compassion and the thirst for knowledge that helps us all better understand and appreciate one another.
We’re going to let our 2SLGBTQIA+ staff members speak for themselves. Exploring, in their own words, how Bissell Centre is working to improve equity for 2SLGBTQIA+ folks, what their experiences have been like at Bissell, and what Pride month means to them.
Bissell Centre gives out free rainbow stickers to everyone. I want to point this out first and foremost. It’s the first thing I think about when I think about how Bissell Centre is a safe space.
I joined Bissell Centre in 2020, and I wasn’t sure if I should be open about my gender identity. I saw a lot of staff here be comfortable and open and safe with who they are. Everyone here makes the effort to use my preferred pronouns (he/him) – and anyone who mistakenly uses the wrong pronouns is quick to apologize and correct it. That makes me feel respected and cared for by Bissell Centre.
Especially compared to my home country, Bissell Centre is welcoming to who I truly am. Here, I get to show my Pride without shame or any fear. I get to be open, and that’s important not just for me but for anyone who wants to express their Pride.
Even our community participants treat 2SLGCTQIA+ people with respect and equality. No one ever has anything negative to say about the clothes we choose, how we present, or how we choose to look according to our gender identity. Having this freedom and acceptance is so important for 2SLGBTQIA+ folks and how we can contribute back to our communities.
When I was placed at Bissell Centre for my social work practicum, I was nervous about entering a new space. Being a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, I am always wary when entering a new space. I don’t know if it’s safe, if I will be harassed or if I can truly be myself.
I remember about a month into my practicum, I mentioned how I noticed there wasn’t really any noticeable visual representation to let new staff and community members know that Bissell is a queer-friendly space. So, we came up with the idea for me to create a 2SLGBTQIA+ resource list for both staff and community members.
Then, I started noticing pride flag stickers placed on doors and laptops. My supervisor told me because I had the courage to identify the gap between Bissell and the queer community, she ordered gender-neutral bathroom signs for the bathrooms in the Community Space. I couldn’t believe that I was a catalyst for these changes. Bissell Centre is not just another group that celebrates pride once a year. They listen to the concerns people have and do what they can to improve.
The community members make Bissell Centre different too. I often get comments that I give off two-spirit energy. I learned that two-spirit folks in Indigenous culture are sacred, which makes me feel honoured. I don’t currently identify as two-spirit – the community members made me curious, and I have since been exploring that side of myself. Because the community members and the staff have created a judgment-free space, it has allowed me to safely be my true self.
Every year, Tim Horton’s holds its Smile Cookie fundraiser, where each local franchise owner can pick a charity in their community that the proceeds from cookie sales will support. It’s a great way to help raise money for great causes directly in our communities!
This year, a group of Edmonton franchise owners decided to try something different. The group agreed to pool their efforts to make a larger collective impact – ultimately choosing Bissell Centre as their charity of choice.
And just like that, this quickly became one of the largest fundraising campaigns we’ve held – raising more than $400,000 in a single week.
Bissell’s Child and Family Supports
Funds from this spring’s Smile Cookie campaign all went to support our Child and Family Supports Program. Last year, we helped more than 1,600 families find their way out of poverty and emergency situations. These programs make a massive impact that people in Edmonton don’t often see.
“It’s things like connections to free pre-natal care, parental supports, or free access to emergency essentials like diapers and formula,” says Jonathan Mackereth, Development Officer with Bissell Centre.
Mackereth explains that Bissell has run a childcare for more than 50 years, serving families in the downtown core. The centre is fully staffed by Early Childhood Education professionals, providing Early Childhood Development for short- and long-term – serving childcare from newborns to six years old.
“There’s are enough challenges finding quality childcare – finances shouldn’t be one of them,” says Mackereth “Lots of parents even drop-off their kids to access other programs like our Employment Services or Financial Empowerment workshops, making it an essential part of our approach to ending poverty.”
Supporting and Celebrating Together
Learning that 147 Tim’s locations all came together to support Bissell Centre, “caught us a little off guard,” Jonathan jokes. “We knew right away opportunities like this don’t come often. We pooled resources into making sure folks knew that buying a cookie would help a child.”
Team members from Bissell Centre could be found at a few different locations around the city during this campaign. Whether it was celebrating with giant cookie cut-outs by the drive-thru, or putting on hair nets and decorating cookies, the teams stepped up to make the week unforgettable.
By the end of the campaign, more than 300,000 cookies were sold – raising more than $464,000! People didn’t hesitate to add a smile cookie to their regular double-double orders – with some businesses and schools pre-ordering up to 1,500 cookies at a time.
“On the first day, we had a manager come out to see us,” Jonathan recalls. “She said in the first two hours of the morning rush, they sold more than a quarter of the cookies they sold for the entire campaign last year.”
We can’t thank the Edmonton Tim’s franchisees enough for all the support they’ve given us. This will directly impact families and children experiencing houselessness and poverty in Edmonton. Thank you for helping us make Edmonton a little bit more of an equitable place to call home.
Bissell Centre’s Thrift Shoppe has always been a valuable resource for us. It’s a place where we can help ensure that our community members, friends and neighbours have a place to purchase good quality products at very affordable prices. It’s where we are able to get donations to help stock our Community Closet, providing household necessities and clothing to severely impoverished individuals and families as we work to help them transition out of poverty. Our Thrift Shoppe is also, apparently, one of Edmonton’s best kept secrets!
When Edmonton Journal columnist Michael Hingston tweeted about his visit to the Thrift Shoppe, the response he got was “SHHH!!! That’s the SECRET BOOKSTORE!”
Hingston wasn’t content keeping it a secret though, writing about our amazing volunteer Margaret Mooney, and how much he enjoyed the store, the stock and the unbeatable prices was his way to share this rare gem with fellow book lovers. He later tweeted “today’s column, about #yeg’s best-kept bookstore secret, is my all-time favorite.”
What wasn’t mentioned in the article was that the Thrift Shoppe is a vital resource and a successful social enterprise for Bissell Centre. With last year’s sales through the store totalling almost $900,000 and the net proceeds supporting our programs that move people out of poverty, it’s a fantastic shopping trip for you, and a great source of support for Bissell Centre.
Bissell Centre got a call from J’Lyn Nye from Corus Radio’s JOE FM! She wanted to know if Bissell would benefit from some donations of warm, winter clothes. I said, “Of course we could!” as our clients visit our Community Closet for their clothing needs – especially when it gets cold. When I asked her what had inspired her, she said that she was at home watching the news, when the idea came to her, “I must do something for Edmontonians who don’t have enough warm clothes!”
One idea, a couple calls, some on-air announcements and several tweets later the Corus lobby was full of donations.
More than ten bags of winter coats, sweaters, gloves, mitts, toques, scarves and so much more were delivered to us. A single thought from a person with a caring heart created a tremendous movement to provide warmth for those who are cold and often at risk for frostbite.
Bissell Centre is creating a movement to end poverty. We are partnering with individuals, businesses, schools and anyone who yearns to see all people housed, employed, and living a life where their basic daily needs – and more – are met.
Thank-you to J’Lyn, her co-host Gary, and the myriad of others who made this possible!